Originally posted 2016-02-12 12:00:31.
The peace found in a steaming cup of herbal tea on a midwinter morning simply can’t be matched. Cara took the cup in her hands, melting icicles back into fingers as she admired the snow-covered trees from the safety of her kitchen. Snow brought back silent memories as it fell, and her gray eyes glimmered in the morning sunlight.
Cara retreated back from the kitchen of her small house. Everything was still new, and a myriad of boxes rested in the corner, untouched though she had moved in three months ago. Her kids were worried, but not worried enough to stop their busy lives and see her. “Sorry mom, but Laura picked up the flu, we can’t come.”…. “Mom, I’d love to see you, but Carl’s taking a trip to Germany and I have to go with him…” “I love you mom, but I can’t get away from the job right now, I used all my vacation days for the funeral and to help you move.” She sighed and took her usual place in her worn rocking chair before the TV. Remotes remained on the table and a crossword left undone. The walls of the small ranch were still bare and neutral, the necessary furniture and the kitchen were unpacked, but the place wasn’t home. She didn’t have the energy to make it home just yet.
She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth, creaking along the floorboards. Back and forth, she stabilized the mug to her chest, the warmth inching through her wool sweater and into her heart. She got through raising three kids on her own, she’d gotten through downsizing after she was laid off, she’d get through the loss of her mother.
But things were better now, she convinced herself. Life was better. Her wrinkled hands clutched the tea. Her kids were doing OK, she had a great support group in church, and she was no stranger to death.
Over her long life, Cara experienced a number of losses, some more painful than others. Her friends dying by car crash, cancer claiming the life of her uncle, her own child miscarried, loss of a friend to a heart attack… the list went on and on. But she considered herself lucky. Her first forays into the concept of death went easy, as far as she could remember. She was young, in sixth grade, when her grandmother passed away one February night. It had to be night, no one died during the day- at least-not in her sixth grade mind.
She rocked back and forth, her eyes closed, trying to remember something from that time. She did remember holding onto her mother, not crying, but comforting. Her little sixth grade arms trembling as she clutched the fearless woman who lay broken and crying on her bed. Just like my daughter did for me. She thought, thinking of her youngest, the one going to Germany. She’s not a little girl, though. Twenty two already and a beautiful woman. Most of her own children’s keepsakes had disappeared from her house either to a trashcan or to their own houses. She held onto a few cherished items. Christmas ornaments, school pictures, and the silly little cards Hallmark and elementary school teachers compelled them to write.
Cara stopped rocking. Where was that box?
As she started to quest for treasure, Cara came across a box with a precious plastic heart inside, another relic from a funeral. She remembered the roses on her grandfather’s coffin- one for each grandchild. Afterwards, they had been dried and sealed in plastic hearts, cushioned by baby’s breath. Cara smiled to herself, her cousins at one time had the same. She wondered if any of them still had theirs, it was so long ago.
Her hunt came to a halt when she unearthed the oil paintings. Her grandmother painted quietly, filling her house with beautiful artwork and the family fell in love with them. Cara had inherited a number of them from her mother’s house to add to her own collection from her grandmother.
A smile touched her lips as she looked through the pieces. She had no idea. The last Christmas her grandmother was alive, the entire family gathered around. Paintings were strewn out across the room, less organized but more cherished than any art gallery. Starting with the youngest grandchild and going through the oldest adult, the pieces were chosen, fought over, laid claim to, and praised. “The Lighthouse is mine!” “Fine, but only if you’ll let me have the sandpipers!” “Ok, but you’re doing the dishes for a week!” Good family bartering. Her grandmother sat back, watching this unfold, startled that her art was loved, valued above all other things. Cara remembered that day fondly. She barely thought of her grandmother’s condition- sitting in the wheelchair, tubes poking into her body, and a few limbs missing, claimed by the surgeons in the hospital trying to prolong her life.
As an adult, Cara now understood how complicated it would have been had they split up the paintings after her grandmother died. This time, it had been her own mother. This past year, on her mother’s last Birthday, she called the family to her house. To her and her brother, it might as well been middle school all over again. As a family, they squabbled over favorite Christmas decorations, paintings, photographs, and who would take home that creepy antique toy soldier that everyone believed was kind of haunted. Wars were fought over family heirlooms that were worth pennies to the lawyers and insurance companies. When the dust settled and the estate broken up, everyone went home with a piece of the family’s legacy.
And Cara hid them in boxes. Cara rocked back on her heels and rose to her feet. She was impressed that she remembered where she squirreled away the tools and soon armed herself with a hammer and nails. It was time to invite her family’s soul into her small house. Time to make it a place of refuge for herself and her kids, and in time, her grandchildren too. Give them a sanctuary where one day they will sit around her squabbling over priceless irreplaceable memories.
Cara hammered the first nail into the wall and she finally made the house her home.
In loving memory of Anna Heim 1927-1998